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Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff asks a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on March 23, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff asks a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on March 23, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Election looms as opposition stacks deck against Harper Tories Add to ...

The federal opposition parties have made it clear they will give the Conservative government of Stephen Harper no room to wriggle out of a looming election.

Liberal Michael Ignatieff says his party will move a motion of no confidence on Friday, one that will declare the government to be in contempt of Parliament for withholding information related to the cost of Conservative crime legislation and the purchase of 65 fighter jets.

"You have a government which, for years now, has failed to show respect for our democratic institutions," Mr. Ignatieff said Wednesday in the foyer of the House of Commons. "This is a government that shut down Parliament twice to avoid tough questions, a government which is facing accusations of electoral fraud, a government which had people at the centre of the Harper regime accused of influence peddling."

Mr. Harper, who made a rare appearance before the Parliamentary Press Gallery just before Mr. Ignatieff spoke, appealed to the opposition to change their minds and vote for his budget.

He told reporters that the turmoil in the Middle East, the disaster in Japan, the European debt and trade issues could all put Canadian jobs at risk. For that reason, he urged the other parties to reconsider their decision to prompt an election.

"It is not too late for them to step back, to think about the fragile global recovery and to listen to the strong support ... of the Canadian public for these measures," Mr. Harper said. "Our economy is not a political game."

Mr. Ignatieff scoffed at the notion that the global economic situation is a reason to forego an election.

"I think it's absolutely hilarious that the Prime Minister is trying to persuade Canadians we can't have an election because it would destabilize the economy," the Liberal Leader said. "This is a democracy, for heaven's sakes. This man showed flagrant disregard for democracy. It's time to bring democracy back to Canada."

Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe was equally adamant that it is time for an election and told reporters that his party is prepared to vote for the Liberal no-confidence motion on Friday.

Mr. Duceppe blasted the Conservative budget, saying there is "sweet nothing" in terms of compensation for Quebec's past harmonization of its sales tax with the federal GST.

"The Conservatives have deliberately turned their back on Quebec," Mr. Duceppe said.

The Bloc could also table a budget amendment on Wednesday afternoon that will likely deal with Quebec's call for a $2.2-billion deal on the sales-tax harmonization deal.

It would be considered a confidence matter and, if the government allows it to be put to a vote on Thursday, it could be the first chance that the opposition has to bring down the government.

Mr. Ignatieff said he would have to wait to see the text of the Bloc amendment before he could say whether he would be willing to vote in favour of it.

NDP Leader Jack Layton said he was prepared to vote against the government on both the Bloc budget amendment, if it comes up first, or the Liberal confidence motion on Friday.

Unlike the other two party leaders, Mr. Layton said he was also prepared to talk with the Conservatives about ways to salvage the budget, as proposed by Mr. Harper. But he questioned Mr. Harper's willingness to engage in those kinds of negotiations and, as a result, his party is willing to support a non-confidence motion.

"Stephen Harper has had five years to fix what's wrong in Ottawa," Mr. Layton said.

Allowing the opposition parties to bring them down would play into Tory pre-campaign rhetoric that a "coalition" of political rivals including the separatist Bloc is hungering to join forces after an election and form a partnership that would replace the Conservatives in power.

Mr. Ignatieff ducked reporters questions about whether he would be willing to form a coalition government with the NDP should the Conservatives be returned to power with another minority.

But Mr. Layton said he was not opposed to the idea.

"If I had held that attitude, then I wouldn't have attended a meeting to which I was invited by Mr. Harper when he was the leader of the opposition and [former Liberal prime minister Paul]Martin had been recently elected," Mr. Layton said. "The House hadn't even begun to sit and he said come have a meeting with me and Mr. Duceppe and let's make sure the Governor-General understands that Mr. Martin doesn't necessarily get to be the prime minister just because he has the most seats."

Mr. Duceppe said the Bloc would not be a formal partner in any Liberal-NDP coalition but would be open to discussions with all parties.

"I will listen to everybody. When it's good for Quebec, I will accept it. Otherwise, I won't," he said.

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